More canals flow in Amsterdam than in Venice, and get this: the 400-year-old waterways are a UNESCO World Heritage site. So roaming around them is like being in a free, living museum, albeit with a beery cafe every few metres.
3. Albert CuypmarktTo get a feel for the ‘real’ Amsterdam, trawl its largest street market (Albert Cuypstraat; www.albertcuypmarkt.nl). Moroccan, Surinamese, Indonesian and Dutch residents haggle over shimmering fabrics, cheeses, bike locks, socks and herring sandwiches.
4. Sandeman’s New Amsterdam ToursYoung guides working on a tip-only basis show you the Red Light District, Anne Frank House and other top sights on a three-hour, whiz-bang walkabout (www.newamsterdamtours.com). Departure is at 11:15am and 1:15 pm from theNationaal Monument at Dam Square.
6. BegijnhofTo explore this secret courtyard (main entrance off Gedempte Begijnensloot;www.begijnhofamsterdam.nl), find the humble wood door in Amsterdam’s busy centre, push it open, and voilà – an oasis of 14th-century houses and gardens appears, along with two clandestine, relic-filled churches.
7. Stadsarchief (City Archives)You never know what treasures you’ll discover in these archives (Vijzelstraat 32;www.stadsarchief.amsterdam.nl): a 1942 police report on Anne Frank’s bike theft, photos from John and Yoko’s 1969 bed-in at the Hilton, or a 1625 city map. Displays rotate regularly.
8. Concertgebouw on WednesdaysSharpen your elbows, because the older women in furs are ruthless trying to get into this famed classical hall’s free lunchtime shows (often rehearsals for musicians playing later that evening). Concerts take place from 12:30pm to 1pm on Wednesdays, from mid-September through to June (Concertgebouwplein 2-6;www.concertgebouw.nl).
9. Muziektheater on TuesdaysPerformers from the opera and Dutch Philharmonic also stage free lunchtime gigs at their mod venue. The high Cs fly from 12:30pm to 1pm on Tuesdays, from September through May (Waterlooplein 22; www.hetmuziektheater.nl).
11. NDSM-werfHop on the free ferry behind Centraal Station and set sail for NDSM-werf (www.ndsm.nl), a derelict shipyard turned avant-garde arts community. Check out the recycled-junk sculptures, graffiti artists roaming the streets and giant wooden tiki head watching over it all.
12. Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)The historic stage for royal coronations, this soaring building from 1408 is now used for large-scale art exhibitions. They charge admission, but you’re welcome to slip through the gift shop and head upstairs for a free peek and display on the church’s history (Dam Square; www.nieuwekerk.nl).
13. Gassan Diamond Factory TourDon’t know your princess from marquise, river from top cape? Get the bling lowdown on Gassan’s one-hour tour, and watch gem cutters and polishers in action (Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 173-175; www.gassan.com).
14. Hollandsche Manege (Riding School)Softly sunlit and smelling of horses, this riding school (Vondelstraat 140;www.dehollandschemanege.nl) impresses even non-equestrians with its gorgeous neoclassical architecture and elegant cafe from which to view the regal trotting.
15. Amsterdam Architecture FoundationARCAM (Prins Hendrikkade 600; www.arcam.nl), per its Dutch acronym, features exhibits on uber-cool urban design. Staff also point you to free resources, such as digital guides to architecture along tram routes.
16. Cannabis CollegeThis non-profit centre educates about Amsterdam’s favourite herb. Chat with staff about coffee shop etiquette, browse bong displays, view hemp-made products or try out a vaporiser (Oudezijds Achterburgwal 124; www.cannabiscollege.com).
18. Centrale Bibliotheek (Main Library)Sure, you can grab an international newspaper and settle into a cushy sofa for the afternoon. But don’t get so comfy that you miss the top-floor cafeteria whose deck unfurls an awesome city vista (Oosterdokskade 143; www.oba.nl).
19. North/South Metro Line ViewpointDescend the stairs in the middle of Rokin street and behold the new subway system being excavated. Colossal digging machines roar in the abyss, and the whole place rumbles when a tram passes overhead (across from Rokin 96;www.noordzuidlijn.amsterdam.nl).
20. Multatuli MuseumRenowned novelist Eduard Douwes Dekker (pen name Multatuli) wrote about corrupt colonialists in the Dutch East Indies. This small but fascinating museum-home(Korsjespoortsteeg 20; www.multatuli-museum.nl) chronicles his works and shows artifacts from his time in Indonesia.